Dallas in Wonderland: Chuck and George at CentralTrak
Dispatch from Dallas
Who’s Afraid of Chuck and George? at CentralTrak
February 13 to April 4, 2015
800 Exposition Avenue (at Ash Lane)
Dallas, 214 824 9302
For 25 years Brian K. Jones and Brian K. Scott, have collaborated as the Texas-based artistic partnership known as Chuck and George. The duo incorporate a wide range of media — including animation, found material, illustration, painting and sculpture — to build their kaleidoscopic world of fairground macabre, corrupted Grimm’s tales, surrealist environments and loyal legions of heraldic grotesques, with “the Brians” themselves acting as Pied Piper ringmasters to their gargoyle cavalcade.
Chuck and George’s current exhibition at CentralTrak, The University of Texas at Dallas Artist Residency, was organized by the program’s director Heyd Fontenot, and consists of more than 80 works, almost all of them from 2014, made by the artists’ friends and colleagues in tribute to the longevity and inventiveness of their personal and professional relationships. As with much of the Brians’ own work which includes often-distorted self portraiture and altered depictions of their bodies within domestic or imagined spaces, this exhibition continues a theme of the artists as subject. As a fortification of their homey intentions the exhibition is located not in CentralTrak’s expansive white-walled gallery, but in the narrow hallway behind it which leads to the studios of resident artists. This domiciliary scale, allied with walls decorated by the couple to mimic their Oak Cliff home, meant that the opening night seemed more like a packed house party than a vernissage, with the exhibition functioning more as a roguish family album. In fact, the Brians’ home could be considered the third member of Chuck and George. It operates as dwelling, muse, studio, evolving large-scale installation, museum, and social hub for the local art scene. Its enchanted nooks and crannies are a magical trove of sculptures, figurines, artworks, collectibles, and decorated furniture, giving it the atmosphere of a warm, Technicolor version of Rocky Horror’s Frankenstein Place.
Many works here hint at the subsumption of singular identities into one, lending insight into contributors’ perceptions of the artists’ connectedness: A startling drawing, Chuck and George of Finland by Jason Cohen, presents the Brians as a hyper-masculine figure, their heads sharing a muscular chest, ripped torso and enormous endowment protruding from open jeans. A pair of languid fabric sculptures sitting on a mantelpiece, Brian Scott Doll and Brian Jones Doll by Gillian Bradshaw Smith, are naked but for their sneakers, with Jones’s likeness positioned so that a hand delves into his rather non-plussed partner’s nether regions. And a fiery Goya-esque portrait by Mark Ross, titled Chuck and George, merges their faces so that they have one eye each, while sharing a third, in reference to mythological tropes from Cyclopes to the Graeae. Here the Brians are presented either as so close as to share the sense of sight, or to be struggling against further integration. In J.D Talasek’s photograph of the artists circa 2000, called Brian and Brian, they sit vulnerably, again naked, huddled against each other with knees drawn to their chests, staring wide-eyed out at the viewer, their poses and expressions presenting an image of spiritual unification, inquisitive but nervous. They may have been older than they look at the time but the impression remains of adolescent disquiet.
Through such works the exhibition becomes an artistic microcosm akin to the Granada Television series Seven Up (1964 – present), which follows 14 British children throughout their lives from the age of 7, and has so far spanned 49 years. Within these dozens of artworks, themes can be discerned and timelines plotted through which we all must travel: youthful wonder and fear at the world observing us; sexual awakening; the eternal grappling with our individual meaning and what happens to that selfhood when it is met by another; aging, aspirations, inevitable disappointments and corporeal decline are all touched upon beneath the initial visual sauciness of this character-full firmament.
Inevitably recalling artists of past (or alleged) relevance whose work is themselves or at least draws heavily from their actual or politicized physicality — the turgid Gilbert & George and Tim Noble & Sue Webster spring tiresomely to mind — the injection of fantastical whimsy and dark cartoonism by the Brians and their friends infuses their production with humility and mirth, thereby rejecting the staggering pomposity of those pretentious Londoners. While the subject of egotism cannot be ignored in “Who’s Afraid of Chuck and George?” where the work is centered so heavily on the protagonists, a small black-and-white image of an anus by Jesse Meraz, titled Wink, offers a critical opening. It could be seen as an event horizon of self-subsumption, through which the above-mentioned British artists and their suffocating contrivances slid long ago. While the gravitational drag of this particular rabbit-hole can be felt within the Chuck and George universe, they are kept from plummeting through it, by their deftness in tempering vanity with vagary and accessibility. They do not attempt to set themselves up as aloof pseudo-shamanistic oracles, but rather through the veracity of their output, they offer the opportunity to glean insight into our own earthly trajectories.